Results tagged “Chicago Tribune” from Drama Queen

It's true the Museum of Modern Art's new film retrospective, Spike Jonze: The First 80 Years, opened on Thursday night, so I'm a little late getting to it. But don't mistake my tardiness for a lack of enthusiasm for either its subject or the event itself. (Really, it's a result of the American Theatre Critics Association's busy NYMF schedule, fodder for another even later post.)

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Jonze is a personal favorite, though by the time I was introduced to him via the Beastie Boys' brilliantly appointed Sabotage video (Moustaches all around!), he was already a camera-strapped, guerilla skate-video-directing, gen X anti-hero. However, Jonze's mild demeanor and minimalist responses during curator Joshua Siegel's between-screening discussions reveal him to be less irony-soaked iconoclast than pensive and understated messenger of joy. Which sounds corny, I know, but seriously it's true.

The retrospective kicked off with an evening devoted to Jonze's and Maurice Sendak's close friendship, featuring three short films: a documentary about Sendak; a comic short-short Jonze and actor Catherine Keener made as a gift for Sendak's 80th birthday (they reenact an incident during which Sendak's sister ditched him at the New York World's Fair to sneak off with her boyfriend, and which served as the inspiration for In the Night Kitchen); and a scene from Jonze's upcoming full-length adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are

The most remarkable thing about the films is that watching Jonze's shorts is much like watching his excerpted Wild Things, except with Sendak cast as Max (Sendak disagreed with Jonze about Max's age anyway, saying "Who cares how old he is?") and Jonze as the monster. In a way, the whole enterprise seems geared to force Sendak into acknowledging that perhaps his life isn't quite the torment he'd like to believe. When Jonze asks Sendak to name just a few of the people and circumstances that have thus far made his stay here less of a burden, his list is long, lovely and sad: Eugene Glynn, his late partner of 50 years; his sister, who helped raise him; his brother, who helped him craft tiny toys out of wood. 

It's too bad the Sendak doc isn't being shown in multiplexes before its companion feature; they'd obviously make a great pairing. But it sounds like the main event will stand on its own just fine, traditional narrative or not. Chicago Tribune film critic and At the Movies host Michael Phillips says it's the best film he's seen all year (but don't tell, because he hasn't reviewed it yet), and he's already been to Sundance and Cannes. 

However, the real strength of the MoMA's retrospective isn't that it's an effective publicity machine for Jonze's newest film, although it is. Its strength is that it pays tribute to a director whose eclectic work is finally becoming a clear vision. Look no farther than the Torrance Community Dance Group's unaffected street theater and Christopher Walken's unexpected bouyancy for proof. Jonze's work is greater than the great Sendak, and the MoMA's collection serves to show that he's been singing an ode to joy all along. 
October 12, 2009 4:01 PM | | Comments (1)
Just got this comment from Arden Theatre Artistic Director Terry Nolen:

"Thanks for the entries about the ATCA conference. Good to hear what is
going on nationally. Surprised to read that Chris Rawson is now a
freelancer. Has that changed the amount of coverage in the
Post-Gazette? Perhaps the ATCA website should include links to
critics' blogs. I read Chris Jones and John Moore's blogs--useful to
stay connected to the work in their communities and their perspective
on the national scene. Curious to know what other critics have blogs."

And though I hope Nolen doesn't mind that I'm using it as the basis for this post American Theatre Critics Association wrap-up post, I'm glad he asked. 

First things first, yes, as I mentioned in an earlier post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette critic Chris Rawson is indeed a freelancer now, having taken a buyout from the paper, which really should come as no surprise to anyone watching the decline of... everything. During a panel on the changing face of theater criticism, he said the Post-Gazette now uses four theater critics, all freelance. It doesn't seem to have changed the paper's coverage, but he would know more about the intricacies of that issue than I do.

As for ATCA's website including links to member blogs, well, funny thing. I was drafted onto a committee headed by ATCA's webmistress Gwen Orel, whose sole purpose is to improve that site. The big plan is to provide both public and private content, but yes, links to member work online, including blogs, Twitter feeds, whatever, will be available to the public, and we realize, the sooner the better. Ideas are welcome, and as soon as the pixels of progress start moving, you'll be among the first to hear.

But posting blog links is really only the portal to a much wider conversation. If most theater critics are bloggers, well, does that make most theater bloggers eligible to be critics? Way back when I first joined the organization and attended my first conference--as a freelancer (albeit the only theater critic) for Philadelphia Weekly--so lowly a thing was I, I barely made conversation with most of the daily news staffers who populated ATCA's member rolls.

Now? Of roughly 50 member critics attending the Sarasota conference, when Rawson asked, "Who in this room is a full-time staff reviewer?" one lonely hand went up. And mind you, that hand, belonging to the Miami Herald's Christine Dolen (the other Drama Queen) wasn't raised very far above her head. After all, who knows what will be happening at her newspaper this time next year? (That count doesn't include the conference's unflappable organizer, Sarasota Herald-Tribune's Jay Handelman, who was no doubt busy organizing at the time.)

So how to evaluate applicants without qualifying ATCA into extinction? One of the reasons New York Post theater columnist Michael Riedel was chosen to address the group (aside, of course, from his mad skills) was that his voice--insiderish, gossipy, brash--is now the rule rather than the exception in online theater coverage. But is he a critic? Well, no. And yet he writes about theater full-time, at a moment when most critics are unable to do so. 

What gives a theater writer credibility these days? Money? Insight? We theater writers would love to know.
May 5, 2009 8:19 AM |
This Chicago Tribune story about President Obama's pattern of personal involvement with the arts is enough to warm the hearts of every economically-stressed, museum-going, dance-loving, theater-attending American. I don't know if it means Quincy Jones will finally get his cabinet-level Secretary for the Arts, but at the very least our fearless leader seems like someone who just might consider the idea.

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So maybe Mr. Jones should also consider getting Gamble and Huff on board--after all, if you read about two-thirds of the way down the Tribune's article, you'll notice that our president went far out of his way to see a play that had its world premiere in Philadelphia, was written by a Philadelphian, and is all about Philadelphia issues:

"In 2005, Michelle and Barack Obama journeyed to the Chicago suburb of Skokie for the Northlight Theatre production of the Thomas Gibbons drama "Permanent Collection." The play, based on the real-life, art-and-race controversy at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia starred the actor Harry J. Lennix, a friend of the Obamas."

The Lennix connection is purely incidental, I'm sure.

(At left: Tim Moyer and Frank X in InterAct Theatre's original production of Permanent Collection.)
March 1, 2009 4:36 PM |
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